Say ‘Cheese’! (2010 Franschoek Cheese Festival)

The 2010 Cheese Festival, held deep in the Western Cape Winelands in Franschoek, is an annual event most Bolanders wouldn’t dare to miss. Journalist SAMANTHA STEELE paid the Festival a visit and found out what’s happening there.

2010 Cheese Festival
The 2010 Cheese Festival was packed to capacity, 8000 people wining and dining under the warm Franschoek sun on the opening day of the four day annual event. PHOTO: Samantha Steele

I was on my third glass of wine and the world was getting steadily blurrier, like an Impressionist painting. It was Saturday, the first day of the annual Cheese (and Wine) Festival. Literally no more people could enter the Bien Donné farm where the festival was hosted. The sun poked its warm fingers through the branches of the oak tree I was sitting under, and the oceanic babble of 8000 people washed blearily over me. There were wine bottles everywhere: twelve at our table, and counting. Our favourite was the Boland Sixty-40 – a bargain at R25. Suddenly a friend made a drunken plea for our tickets; she planned to sneak more people in to the already over-packed venue. One thing is clear – people love the Cheese Festival. From wrinkled faces puckering after taking a shot of apple spirits at the Worcester Living Open Air Museum stall, to children petting the docile cows, festival-goer Alice Fortus (48) sums it up when she tipsily described the event as “Brilliant.”

Wine not

Wine bottles
There was certainly no lack of wine at this event. A lot of people came for the drinking instead of the cheese tasting, though both are essential parts of the festival. PHOTO: Samantha Steele

It wasn’t unusual to see people walking around with both a wine glass in one hand and a bottle of whatever vintage they’d stumbled upon at one of the festival’s many stalls in the other. Cheese is the Festival’s focus, but wine and condiments – cheese’s partners in crime – were also a significant part of the event.

Uschi van Zweel, a wine specialist working for KWV – a festival sponsor – said, “My strategy is to take off the wine hat. We’ve passed the stage where people go, ‘Do you get the gooseberries, I get the cassis.’” People should be able to enjoy wine without pretension, she believes; “Why drink something you don’t like?” Van Zweel asks. Chill your red wine if you’d like, or top the glass with ice. That is also why she created wine cocktails (a recipe is below). The Festival tries to make wine less hoity-toity, less intimidating, and to bring it to a level the Average Joe – and Josephine – can enjoy. It seems they’re doing their job.

Franschoek is almost the ideal venue for this goal, since the entire area is tightly woven with vineyards, local wine makers and great wine. It is festival visitor Izelle Jacobs’ (29) first time here, and she says that growing up in the Boland means that wine isn’t that intimidating: “Most of the names here are familiar to me. It’s more social, so I didn’t really spend a lot of time at the tasting tents.” And with the Festival packed to capacity – every ticket was sold – it’s not hard to clink glasses with someone you know.

Festival goers Gideon Jacobs (24) and Izelle Jacobs (29)
Festival goers Gideon Jacobs (24) and Izelle Jacobs (29) love the Cheese Fest. Gideon has been here three times, and Izelle says she is "pretty impressed". PHOTO: Samantha Steele

Thousands of people traipsed to the many stalls clustered in tents around musicians and hundreds of tables and chairs. You could both try, and buy, cheese, wine, olives, pickled pears, jams, spread, milk, and bread; as well as hot food and even oysters. For a lot of the stalls tempting passers-by with their wares, their presence at the Festival was more about selling their name than selling jars of their products. Like Rosanna Olives, who had a stall for the first time at the Festival. Their mission is mainly to get their name out there. Feast-de-renaissance also had delicious cheese related pickled things – pears and plum coulis and blueberry and grape relish, to name a few. People thronged to try the various products, with stalls like Pesto Princess barely able to cope the many people tasting their pesto and tapenade.

Pesto Princess stall
The Pesto Princess stall barely managed to keep up with all the people trying their products. PHOTO: Samantha Steele

Say cheese

Wine aside, the SA Cheese Festival is, as the name suggests, predominantly about cheese. Mariana Rabie is the marketing manager of Agri-Expo, the owners and organisers of the festival, which is currently in its ninth year. “We try to bring cheese to the average South African consumer,” Rabie says. All the Qualité award winners were there – Klein River Cheese, La Rochelle, Fairfield, Clover and Lausanne, to name a few. A Qualité award is, according to the Festival’s booklet, a “symbol of outstanding dairy product quality”. 34 judges mark over 800 products, and those that get 27.5/30 and above get a Qualité award.

Estalanie Marais (44) created La Rochelle, and her handmade goats milk cheese, called Dowry (named after Minister Dowry from the Department of Agriculture), won a Qualité award this year. Since her cheeses are handmade, Marais says, “You need people that have a passion for cheese.” Marais and staff milk all of her 122 goats every morning to get the milk they use to make their award winning cheese. La Rochelle can be bought at Checkers, another festival participant.

After five hours of traipsing through stalls, tasting this here and that there, and bumping into friends, acquaintances and distant family, the Festival begins to blur nicely together in a swirly haze of wine and deliciousness. Cheese, jams, wine and the tinkly golden sound of glasses clinking together – “To Saturday!” – make this an event worth returning to year after year.

KWV Kiwi  Delitchi CocktailKiwi Punch

  • 2 x 750ml KWV Chenin Blanc
  • 1 x 750ml KWV Brut
  • 2l litchi juice
  • 2l lemonade
  • 4 cups cubed ice
  • 6 x Kiwi fruits cut into slices
  • 6 x litchis

Combine all ingredients and stir with 8 cups of cubed ice. Use a 6l jug. Garnish with fruit.

I found this cocktail delicious, light and crispy. Great for parties! Enjoy.

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